Salvation and Jesus: A Challenge

I want this blog post to be a challenge. In the New Church, we embrace the teaching that God does not condemn anyone for ignorance of Him; that people who do not know Him as the Lord Jesus Christ, who are ignorant of His Word, can be saved, because if they have lived as well as they can in love to the neighbor and love to God, they will embrace Him as God after death, since “those who do the truth come to the light” (John 3:21).

These are beautiful teachings, illustrating God’s mercy.  And yet. I think we overemphasize these teachings. I think these teachings are about the Lord’s mercy for those who are in ignorance – but they are not about people who have the Word and are in some sense “within the Church,” or “within Christianity,” or “within the Christian world.” Now, there are a lot of other passages and teachings to take into account. I wrote a longer blog post including some of these, but decided not to publish it. For now, I simply want to present these passages, without caveats (although with emphasis added by me).

In the following work, by the name Lord is meant the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, and Him only; and He is called “the Lord” without the addition of other names. Throughout the universal heaven He it is who is acknowledged and adored as Lord, because He has all sovereign power in the heavens and on earth. He also commanded His disciples so to call Him, saying, “Ye call Me Lord, and ye say well, for I am” (John 13:13). And after His resurrection His disciples called Him “the Lord.” (Arcana Coelestia 14)

From this can be seen what is the lot of those in the other life who have been born within the church and yet at heart deny the Lord, whatever may be their quality as to moral life. By much experience also it has been given to know that they cannot be saved; which the Lord also teaches openly in John: “He that believeth in the Son hath eternal life, but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). But with regard to the nations outside the church, those who have lived from their religion in some kind of charity toward their neighbor, and in some kind of love to God the Creator of the universe under a human form, are in the other life accepted by the Lord and are saved; for when instructed by angels these acknowledge the Lord, and believe in Him, and love Him. (Arcana Coelestia 10112)

From all this it is evident that by “the sons of Israel keeping the Sabbath to perform the Sabbath to their generations,” is signified the acknowledgment of the Divine Itself in the Lord’s Human in each and all things of worship.  The reason why this is an essential of the church, and consequently an essential of its worship, is that the salvation of the human race depends solely upon this union. Moreover the Lord came into the world for the sake of effecting this union. Therefore also in its inmost sense the whole Word treats of this, and the rituals of the church instituted among the sons of Israel represented it and signified it. [2] That the salvation of the human race is therefrom, consequently that this acknowledgment is an essential of the church and of its worship, the Lord teaches in many passages, as in John: “He that believeth in the Son hath eternal life; but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life” (John 3:36; also verses 15, 16; 6:40; 11:25, 26; 20:31). “The Son” denotes the Divine Human of the Lord. The reason why those have no eternal life who do not from faith acknowledge the Lord, is that the whole heaven is in this acknowledgment; for the Lord is the Lord of heaven and earth, as He teaches in Matthew:  “All power hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18); and therefore heaven is closed to those who do not acknowledge Him; and he who does not make acknowledgment in the world (that is, he within the church), does not make it in the other life. Such is the state of man after death. (Arcana Coelestia 10370)

Those who have been born within the church ought to acknowledge the Lord, His Divine and His Human, and to believe in Him and love Him, because all salvation is of the Lord. ….Wherefore those who within the church do not acknowledge the Lord and His Divine, cannot be conjoined with God, and thus cannot have any lot with the angels in heaven, for no one can be conjoined with God except by the Lord and in the Lord. (Arcana Coelestia 10817, 10818)

Those within the church who have denied the Lord and have acknowledged the Father only, and have confirmed themselves in that belief, are not in heaven; and as they are unable to receive any influx from heaven, where the Lord alone is worshiped, they gradually lose the ability to think what is true about any subject whatever; and finally they become as if dumb, or they talk stupidly, and ramble about with their arms dangling and swinging as if weak in the joints. Again, those who, like the Socinians, have denied the Divinity of the Lord and have acknowledged His Humanity only, are likewise outside of heaven; they are brought forward a little towards the right and are let down into the deep, and are thus wholly separated from the rest that come from the Christian world. Finally, those who profess to believe in an invisible Divine, which they call the soul of the universe [Ens universi], from which all things originated, and who reject all belief in the Lord, find out that they believe in no God; since this invisible Divine is to them a property of nature in her first principles, which cannot be an object of faith and love, because it is not an object of thought. (Heaven and Hell 3)

The two essentials of the New Church are that the Lord alone is the God of heaven and earth, and that His Human is Divine; and that men ought to live according to the precepts of the Decalogue (Apocalypse Revealed 485).

Hereafter no one from among Christians enters heaven unless he believes in the Lord God the Savior, and approaches Him alone. (True Christian Religion 107)

Those in Christendom [or Christianity - Latin "Christianismo"] who reject the Lord and the Word have no faith, although they live morally, and even speak, teach, and write rationally about faith. This follows as a conclusion from all that precedes; for it has been shown that the true and only faith is faith in the Lord and from the Lord, and that a faith that is not a faith in and from Him, is not a spiritual but a natural faith, and merely natural faith has not the essence of faith in it. Moreover, faith is from the Word; it is from no other source, since the Word is from the Lord, and consequently the Lord Himself is the Word. (True Christian Religion 384)

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Cut from the Sermon: Indiana Jones and the Leap of Faith
Cut from the Sermon: Indiana Jones and the Leap of Faith
About Coleman Glenn
  • Alaina Mabaso

    Who knew the salvation stakes were even higher for those born within “the church” versus those born outside it? Now I know that it’s more dangerous to be born a Christian and then suffer doubts about God -whatever the source of the doubts – than it is to be born outside the Christian faith. And here I thought I had a leg up over all those Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Pagans and Buddhists, because at least I was baptized into the correct faith. I always thought that would give me at least some traction at the pearly gates, maybe like kids who get admitted to nice schools because their parents are prestigious alumni. I guess my enrollment and numbering in heaven as per my Cathedral baptism really was conditional after all.

    Contemporary New Church people have been putting too much love and acceptance out in the world with their everyone-can-go-to-heaven teaching. I’m sure rolling it back would hurt their outreach prospects, but there can’t be any harm in sowing a pinch of painful righteous exclusion among themselves about who’s really accepting God. All in the words of Swedenborg or God Himself, of course.

    I know you’re defining the trouble-makers (or non-saved people, however you want to put it) as anyone born, most broadly, “within the Christian world” who’s subsequently failed to accept the Lord. My question (and I know it’s a worn-out one) is what’s the objective context for “the Church” in these passages according to the author? Is he implying members of Swedenborgian incarnations of a “church”, which had yet to be established? Does he too mean all Christians? Should we expand that category to all Christian groups that exist today (surely a few have popped up since Swedenborg’s day which he couldn’t have been aware of). From what I know, there is an astonishing variety of beliefs among different Christian sects. Is that immaterial because most of them have the same name for God and the same title for their holy book? Or in a greater spiritual sense, would the definition extend to anyone whose scripture, while not titled “The Bible”, also includes Decalogue-like tenets and love to a divine maker? Because frankly, there’s pretty many of those.

    Sincere thanks for the challenging thoughts.

    • Coleman Glenn


      Thanks for your thoughts. A lot of those caveats that I decided not to publish were those exact kinds of questions you’re asking – what does it mean when it talks about those “born within the church”? What does it mean when it talks about those “within the church” who don’t acknowledge the Lord? What does it mean when it talks about people “denying” or “rejecting” the Lord? I think those are good questions to be asking. I didn’t include them because I wanted people to wrestle with them without trying to explain away the statements.

      So – what does it mean in this context to be within the church, or born within the church? I’m not sure. The Writings use the term “the Church” in several different ways. Often it means all those who worship Jesus Christ as the one God and live according to His commandments, but here it clearly doesn’t mean that, since it’s talking about people who are “in the church” but who don’t actually have it within themselves, since it talks about them not going to heaven. On the other hand, it clearly does not mean all those who have a religion with precepts similar to the Ten Commandments and a belief in one God, since Arcana Coelestia 10112 (quoted above) specifically says these people are in a different category than those “born within the church”. So, I tend to think these passages may be using a definition like this: “The Church exists in particular where the Word is, and through it the Lord is known, and divine truths revealed” (White Horse 6). I think in these passages it probably means that it’s where people have the Bible and from that know who Jesus Christ is – although as I said, I don’t know for sure.

      Here’s the way I see it: the life in heaven is life in the Lord Jesus Christ. If a person is going to be happy in heaven, that means being happy with the Lord living in them, submitting their wills to His will, acting as expressions of His love and wisdom. If I know what the Word says about who the Lord is and choose not to ask Him into my life – and especially if I say I don’t want Him in my life, I don’t want to live by His rules – then I’m closing myself off to heaven. On the other hand, if I acknowledge that I can’t do good by myself, that all good is from Him, that truly loving other people means obeying His commandments – then He starts to live in me. I know I have a tendency to sin – I’ve seen hell pretty clearly working in me. And I know that the only way I’ve been able to have that change in me at all is to ask for the Lord to change my heart, to make the effort on my own and still to acknowledge it’s from Him. If I think I can do it on my own, I fail every time. If I live in disobedience to Him, I feel empty – I KNOW what it’s like to think I can do it on my own, to think I can figure it out based on my own intelligence, to trust whatever feels right. It doesn’t work. When I live in a obedience to Him, I feel a deep sense of love and peace and joy. Yes, that’s subjective, but over and over I’ve experienced the truth of it – when the Lord is in my life, I see more clearly; when He is not, I feel blind and empty. And I don’t think a person can ever really be transformed unless they allow the Lord in. And although other religions do present some concept of God, I believe the picture of God as the Lord Jesus Christ is the fullest one. So, if a person rejects Jesus as God, he’s rejecting something in God.

      Now, doubt is a different thing. Everyone doubts. Jesus doubted. Faith doesn’t mean never doubting. But you can choose to follow the Lord despite doubts, or you can choose not to follow the Lord. And that decision, I think, has as much to do with a willingness to submit to His will as it does to something intellectual. A person all his life can say, “I really don’t get how anyone could rise from the dead – but I’m going to act as if that’s true, because I LOVE the idea of Jesus, I love the idea of Him being real, I want Him to be real and as far as I can tell, the best way He offers as evidence that He’s real is to try to experience Him.” You can pray, “Lord I believe – help my unbelief.” That’s a very different kind of doubting from saying, “Hey, my will is my own, and I’m not submitting it to ANYBODY, I don’t care who they are. Self-interest is the only rational way to live. This Christianity stuff is nonsense.”

      I posted this because I do think the stakes are high. It’s not fair or right to act as if they are not – I really believe there is a heaven and hell. There is a choice. Fortunately, we have the opportunity to make the choice throughout our lives: whether or not we’re going to obey and love the Lord Jesus Christ, and acknowledge Him as the source of everything good. But if a person rejects Him – not just having doubts, but saying, “I don’t want that Man acting in me, because I don’t like Him” – they are closing off heaven to themselves. It’s not that the Lord wants glory for Himself – the only thing He wants is to give people true joy – but He can’t do that unless people are willing to accept Him into their hearts and be changed.

      • Alaina Mabaso

        Well first off I guess your main problem is letting people wrestle with ideas themselves instead of serving up your own views as absolute truth. Who ever told you that was a worthwhile way to engage people? I like infallible answers from my priests.

        I have a tricky relationship with these teachings, because I’d describe myself as a kind of affirmative agnostic – I see no foolproof evidence to deny God, and no foolproof evidence that God exists (or that Jesus was God). But I love a lot of the Bible’s teachings and have no desire to actively deny God – especially an inclusive concept of God that does not deride certain groups because they worship differently than I do. When I live my day to day life, I constantly ask myself if what I’m doing is charitable to other people (of course I’m not perfect though)- not necessarily because I’m thinking of God’s will, but because on a more quotidian, observable level, I believe it’s of paramount importance to be kind to other people. Maybe that means any good actions I do manage are actually for naught and I’m hell-bound, because I don’t have this glowing, joyful surety that the Lord is inside me. I don’t deny the possibility that He’s there or deride others who have fervent faith in God. But in the meantime I am more interested in being a charitable, productive person than examining questions of God. That might make me an insidious type of person from a New Church view, but I guess that’ll be for me to work out.

        Thanks for your response.

        • Coleman Glenn

          I know, I know – I should utter absolute statements with supreme confidence in my every word. How else am I going to get the awe and respect I deserve? Oh well – next time, next time.

          I mentioned the fact that I don’t think doubt is a bad thing, and I think of affirmative agnosticism as a good starting point. The problem with it that I see, though, is that it doesn’t always deal with sin. The Writings teach that from himself a person is nothing but evil, and inclines towards evils of every kind. I didn’t really used to believe it, but I’ve seen enough evil in myself that I’m convinced it’s true. Granted, we’re also blessed with states of charity from the Lord, and inclinations toward kindness as well. But unless the sin in us is uprooted – and I think that only happens when we shun evil as a sin against the Lord – then we can and WILL justify living selfishly. To take one example: say a mother has kids, and someone hurts one of her kids – really badly. Is she justified in taking revenge? OK, maybe not, because society doesn’t work if people take revenge. But what if she could get revenge in a way that no one would realize that revenge had been taken? Or at LEAST – wouldn’t it be OK for her to hate that person? Unless you think it’s a sin against God to hate other people, what’s going to stop her from doing that? Without a belief that evils are sins against God, people tend to MOSTLY not embrace evil anyway – but always with certain exceptions (“It’s OK to hate THIS person.”). And even if you WANT to stop sinning – like I said, I’ve found that nothing actually changes in me unless I’m praying to the Lord, and feeling complete gratitude (rather than pride in my accomplishments) if I’m able to be held back from sin.

          Do people who believe in the Lord also make excuses for their evil? Yes, of course. But if they’re really following the Lord, they’re constantly trying to see those areas where they’re not being honest with themselves, and to repent. Agnostic people can repent, too, but unless you come to the conclusion that something is wrong in the sight of God – that there IS a right and wrong – there’s always wiggle room to excuse it. I think you can do that even if you’re not sure God exists – but I do think it takes a conscious commitment to looking to the Word to know what evils are sins, looking for them in your intentions, acknowledging that they’re sins against the Lord, praying to the Lord for help resisting them and to make you stop wanting them, and then living differently – with the acknowledgment that even that is a gift from the Lord.

          • Alaina Mabaso

            I am of two minds. I understand what you’re saying and think your approach is likely to be just what a lot of people love and need. But I also think that the push to define God and the process of repentance for others is one of the biggest personal intrusions that one human being can make against another, and a key example of the arrogance that so often plagues organized religions. This blog post of yours is challenging and does provoke a lot of worthwhile thought – I do enjoy religious ruminations and the quest to be a better person – but if anything, it confirms to me that something is sorely lacking, or limited, in the New Church concept of God. I’ve heard the New Church concept of God and repentance, as you reproduce it above, many times. It bothers me the way many other approaches to many aspects of life in the New Church (say, lessons on the proper progression to marriage) bother me – as if faith and spiritual growth can be expressed with a concrete formula and solved like an equation. What seems like the danger of “wiggle room” to you seems to me like something much more universal, challenging and profound than Swedenborg’s Steps of Repentance.

            That being said, I think you’re on track for a wonderful career that will touch thousands of people. Just because parts of New Church theology aren’t for me doesn’t mean they can’t enlighten others. As always, I love having you for a friend, even though we rarely agree…

  • Lee Woofenden

    Keep in mind that it Swedenborg’s day, there was not the spiritual and intellectual freedom that now exists in the world due to the second coming. In Europe, being spiritual meant being Christian. If you rejected Christianity, you were rejecting God, spirituality, and the whole shebang.

    Today it is very different. People who were born Christian can and do become Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and all manner of other religions, and go on to live a thoughtful, caring, spiritual life. And many become agnostic or atheist and go on to live a thoughtful, caring life.

    I believe what Swedenborg is talking about is people who reject religion because they care only about themselves and their own rightness or their own pleasure or their own power, and do not want religion getting in the way.

    That’s not the case for many, if not most people today who are born to Christian parents but leave that faith behind.